How to make handmade silk paper

Sericulture, or the production of silk, has a long and colorful history. Chinese mythology gives the title of Goddess of silk to Lady His-Ling-Shin. She was the wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ruled China sometime around 3000 B. C. She is thought to have developed the method of raising silkworms and cultivating them for cloth. This secret remained carefully guarded for about 2000 years. It was considered a capital crime to export live silkworms out of China, in an effort to protect the secret of silk cloth.

Today China is still the world’s leading producer of silk, with Japan following closely behind.

Silk is an animal fiber. It is the product of the silkworm. There are two types of silkworms: wild and cultivated. The fibers of the wild silkworm are brown, instead of yellow or gray. The wild silkworm feeds on scrub oak that grows in India, China, and Japan. Fibers from India and China are called tussah silk. Fibers from Japan are called wild silk.

Cultivated silkworms require a great deal of care, including quiet, and sanitation. These silkworms are fed with mulberry leaves.

The silkworm lives a very short time only about 2 months. They pass through four stages of development:
(1) egg, (2) worm, (3) chrysalis, and (4) moth.

A tiny white worm about ¼ of an inch long is hatched from an egg. The silkworm eats a great deal and molts four-times in about thirty days.

The silkworm stops eating, and attaches itself to a piece of straw, and spins a cocoon. Fine filaments come out of the worm’s mouth and harden upon exposure to air. The worm covers itself with these filaments.

The chrysalis is suffocated while it is in the cocoon stage. Long thin fibers are then pulled from the unbroken cocoon.

Various products are then made from the fibers. One such product is silk paper. Silk paper is made from unspun silk fiber that is layered and then fused together. Silk paper has many uses, including containers, small bags, journal pages, and journal covers. It can be sewn, cut, or embellished with embedded fibers, leaves, threads, and anything that is flat and can get wet.

Materials needed to make a sheet of silk paper:

Plastic sheeting to cover your workspace.

2 ounces of long combed silk tops tussah silk (honey brown), or bombyx (white). This is a spinning fiber, also called Gold Brick. It can be dyed or left plain.

Methyl Cellulose Solution This is a material used by papermakers for sizing paper. It can be bought at art supply stores. Mix 1 Tablespoon of methylcellulose in one quart of cold water. Stir constantly with a whisk, so that the powder dissolves evenly. Let the mixture stand for several hours before using the paste that forms.

Tulle net twice as big as the size of the sheet you are making.

(2) 2 inch paint brushes. One for the paste and one for soap solution.

A container of soapy water mix one teaspoon of liquid detergent with one quart of water.

A sponge and a towel.

A screen to dry the paper on.

Procedure:

1) Lay the tulle on a flat, plastic covered work surface.

2) Pull out a few silk fibers, and lay them horizontally in the upper corner of the tulle. Keep adding more fibers, a few at a time, overlapping each section slightly. Continue until one row has been completed, vertically.

3) Continue layering the fibers, remembering to leave half the tulle uncovered. Make sure to overlap each vertical row about ½ inch, so that the layers will be even.

4) If a thin sheet is desired, stop now. If you want a thicker sheet, place another layer of fibers vertically over the first layer (at right angles to it).

5) Fold the tulle over the layered silk fibers. Use a brush to apply slightly soapy water to the silk. Silk is water repellant, and the soap will help break the surface tension, so the paste solution will stick. Make sure the silk is covered with the soapy water, and that there are no dry areas on either side. The fiber should be damp, but not too wet. Use a towel to blot the fibers if they get too wet.

6) Carefully peel apart the tulle and cover any thin spots with more fibers, dampening them as needed. Replace the tulle.

7) Use the second paintbrush to cover the wet silk with the methyl cellulose paste solution. Be sure to turn the tulle over, and cover the other side also.

8) Use a clean sponge to remove any excess liquid.

9) Place the tulle package on the screen to dry. Do not dry the silk paper in direct sunlight, as this may damage the fibers.

10) When the paper is dry, peel away the tulle net. The paper may be flattened by using a pressing cloth and iron on the silk setting.

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